ITN staff given warning on jobs: Television news company chairman stresses profit-making concern of new shareholders

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The Independent Online
EMPLOYEES of Independent Television News were warned yesterday that still more jobs in the company could be lost. Michael Green, the chairman, told reporters after addressing a staff meeting: 'I told them that just because we have new shareholders, we can't give guarantees of jobs for life.'

As a result of recent waves of redundancies, ITN now employs 674 people, down from 1,000 in 1990.

In his first press conference since becoming ITN's chairman, Mr Green, chairman of the London weekday broadcaster Carlton, stressed the difference between the new shareholders - six ITV companies and the news agency Reuters - and the old. Until last year, ITN was owned by all 15 of the regional ITV companies, who were obliged to take a share as a condition of holding their franchises.

'We have chosen to be shareholders,' he emphasised. 'We see ITN not as a cost centre run by its customers but as a profit centre.'

David Gordon, the former chief executive of the Economist, whose appointment as chief executive of ITN was announced last week, confessed: 'I don't know much about television.' But he said that he brought with him a commitment to editorial excellence, international marketing and efficient use of resources that would form part of his strategy for the company.

The ITV network has renewed its contract with ITN for five years, although at a lower price than the old one. With Channel 4, a new contract has just been agreed until the end of 1996, with a possible extension until 1998. Mr Gordon said that an important part of his strategy would be to seek new international customers, although the number of competitors was increasing.

News at Ten, the company's flagship on ITV, has improved its performance since its controversial relaunch last autumn. Stewart Purvis, the editor-in-chief, said that in the first 10 weeks of this year it won 53 per cent of the accumulated audience for it and the BBC's Nine O'Clock News, compared with 52 per cent last year. Its average audience this year is 7.1 million.

Mr Green said that ITN hoped to exercise its pounds 74m option to buy the freehold of its building on Gray's Inn Road, central London, before next June.

Negotiations were advanced with tenants for some of the vacant floors, and by the end of this year he hoped that all but one of the building's 10 floors would be let.

At the end of next year ITN will have to seek new investors because the Broadcasting Act says that, by then, less than half its shares should be owned by ITV companies.

(Photograph omitted)